I knew Jackson was trouble the moment I met him. We were both studying abroad and attending our pre-departure orientation. I was drawn to his confidence, light blue eyes, and boyish grin, yet put off by his obvious arrogance. Despite the bright red flags that urged me to run far away, my attraction trumped my intuition. We quickly became friends, and before I knew it, I had fallen hard for a guy who was not following Christ.
In fact, it was discussions about faith that fostered the quick intimacy that grew between us. From the beginning, my openness about my faith triggered an outpouring of his spiritual struggles. Whereas he kept up his confident exterior around others, he dropped the mask when we were alone. In long walks through a foreign land, we talked for hours about faith, love, writing, and our dreams for the future. Although there was nothing physical about our relationship, the emotional intimacy we shared left wounds that festered long after we parted ways at the end of the summer.
In my heart of hearts, I have always desired to marry a man whose life is defined by his love for Christ. And until I met Jackson, I didn’t think the scriptural command to not be “unequally yoked” would ever pose a problem for me. But throughout the summer, I found myself justifying what I knew to be a destructive relationship with three insidious thoughts:
1. I can fix him: I fell into the trap of thinking that I could become the Holy Spirit in Jackson’s life. What was a noble desire for him to know Christ turned into a twisted vying to attain a godlike status in his life. In my prideful desire to be Jackson’s saviour, I was tempted to compromise my convictions. The cultural narrative of the Christian woman turning the non-believer from his ways certainly didn’t help my thought life. Go to the romance section at a Christian bookstore and you will find descriptions like this: “Byron Blakely is all Katie has ever wanted in a man, but alas! He is not a Christian. Join Katie as she struggles against her feelings for Byron but ultimately draws him to her with her sexy innocence.” These types of books usually end with a wedding and a baptism! This “inspirational” storyline needs to be called out as what it is: a lie. Solomon, the wisest man in history, was unable to fix the foreign wives he clung to. Who was I to think I was the exception to the rule? So however “spiritual” the desire to fix Jackson might have seemed, it was actually a dangerous departure from God’s design.
2. He can truly love me: Jackson affirmed my writing, my looks, and my character in ways that made me feel beautiful and unique. I loved that he saw me the way I wanted to be seen. I felt understood and special, and I started to believe that Jackson could love me the way I had always dreamed of. But the truth is that true love apart from Christ is impossible. Ephesians 5:25 calls men to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” If Jackson didn’t view love through the paradigm of Christ and the church, how could I expect him to love me sacrificially? Sure, the emotion and attraction might have carried us for a while. But when the fairy tale dissolved into the everyday grind, I would be left looking to him for a kind of love that he couldn’t give.
3. There are no good Christian guys anyway: Negative stereotypes about Christian men can make the unequally-yoked narrative tempting. Christian men are often painted as either legalistic and domineering or passive and boring. These generalizations are easy for women to latch onto, especially if they are getting frustrated in their search for that special someone.. And for me, it was easy to become bitter at “Christian men” as a whole. I was having a pity-party after going through three years of college with no hint of a relationship. I was frustrated and disillusioned. When it came down to it, I see that this cynicism was actually a lack of trust in God. If I was honest, I knew quite a few guys who were following Christ. But since I hadn’t met the one for me yet, I reacted in anger. I needed to trust (and still need to), that if he wills it, God will unite me with a man who loves Jesus with all his heart.
All these justifications for my relationship with Jackson bring to mind Isaiah’s depiction of Israel’s idolatry: “Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” Isaiah 44:20 At the time, the excuses I made seemed so reasonable. But in reality, they were poisonous to my heart and mind. So the next time someone walks in and I know that he’s trouble, may I bite my lip, spit out the lies, and get out of there as fast as I can.
And if I don’t, please slap me in the face. Hard.
Photo by (Flickr CC): Theophilos Papadopoulos